Student Spotlight: Nicholas Tuschak Basinger

Ph.D. student Nicholas Tuschak Basinger has been called a Renaissance man, and in NC State’s Department of Horticultural Science, he is making his mark.

Basinger earned a bachelor’s degree in health and exercise science from Furman University and had plans to study physical therapy in graduate school. Instead, after a couple of on-farm internships — plus some soul searching and school searching — he decided to come to NC State for graduate school.

For his master’s degree, he studied the effect of vegetation-free strip width in blackberry and winegrape production. Now, he’s working on a Ph.D., researching crop and weed interactions and remote sensing for weed detection and discrimination in agriculture.

Why did you choose CALS?

Looking back, agriculture has been a common thread in many of my life experiences. Between my grandparents’ farm, my parents’ garden, involvement with a campus farm in college and organizing the implementation of community gardens in Nicaragua, I think it’s incredible that agriculture wasn’t my original path.

To celebrate graduating from Furman, I took to the Appalachian Trail, hiking from Maine to Georgia in the summer of 2009. Once I returned, I had come to terms with the fact that I didn’t want to be a physical therapist, and needed to find a new direction. On the suggestion of a college friend, I took a farming internship on a small organic farm in Western North Carolina in 2010 and then did a second season on a biodynamic farm with my now wife, Grace Tuschak, in 2011.

These two seasons were formative: I had known for some time that I wanted to go back to school for an upper-level degree, and after my internship experiences, I wanted to work with small fruit. I searched all over the East Coast looking for opportunities and was fortunate to find Drs. Katie Jennings and David Monks here at NC State.  

What is your career goal?

I have been blessed with many skills that I could put to good use in both a professorial or extension position. My graduate career has given me the chance to work closely with students and growers.  

As a professor, I would have the incredible opportunity to shape the minds of students, teaching them what we know and learning from them while also conducting research. I believe in NC State’s Think and Do philosophy; it is especially pertinent to CALS students. I would also have the opportunity to conduct research that could change the way our food is produced.

Working in extension, I would have the incredible opportunity to work with growers. They are knowledgeable and inquisitive and have forced me to think critically about my approaches to research and extension. I have greatly appreciated working with incredible growers — like Ervin Lineberger, Wayne Mitchem, John Gurganus, and Carlos Mungia — who have taught me to think like a grower.

In short, the opportunities that I’ve had through CALS have made it hard to choose. Graduate school has made me well-rounded in areas of teaching, research and extension and ready for myriad job opportunities.

What are you working on now?

I’m focusing on weed-crop interactions of two weeds, large crabgrass and Palmer amaranth, in sweet potato and soybeans. This research has confirmed that competition caused by these weeds and can be used to establish management thresholds, allowing growers to know the yield losses associated with specific weed densities and when weed management intervention is necessary.

I am also working on using ground-based hyperspectral remote sensing to identify wavelengths in the visible, infrared and shortwave infrared portions of the electromagnetic spectrum that would allow for differentiation between weed species and crop species. This research has implications for the development of vegetative indices and/or sensor platforms specific to agriculture that can be utilized for unmanned aerial systems or in analyzing satellite images for weed patterns and densities in agricultural fields. This research has been incredibly interesting because it has allowed me to do interdisciplinary work. I have committee members from Horticultural Science, Crop Science and Geospatial Analytics. Working with them, I have seen the value of interdisciplinary work and the insights that other researchers with training in other disciplines can provide.

What have you learned that you will take with you when you graduate?

I have consistently been amazed at the importance of building professional relationships with students, growers and other professionals. These relationships have allowed me to begin to build a network that I will be able to depend on as I move toward a career. These connections have given me the opportunity to be a part of national discussions on weed herbicide resistance, to present my research to leaders in my field and to gain perspective on my own future directions and aspirations.

Tell me about an experience outside the classroom.

One of my most rewarding experiences outside of the classroom has been taking up beekeeping with my wife. We received a beehive as a gift when I first started graduate school and have been keeping bees for about five years now. We started with one hive and over several years made splits, building up to four hives this last season.

Our bees have also provided us with opportunities to teach others about bees. We have had honey harvest gatherings with friends and taken a couple of our neighbors on hive tours. As a result of keeping bees, I have grown to understand the interconnectedness and importance of bees.  

Best thing about CALS in five words?

Real impacts for NC agriculture — producing quality students to participate in ag in our state, quality research making an actual difference on North Carolina farms, and reaching growers through quality extension programs and outreach.